An ethnographic study of rural community literacy practices in Bweyale and their implications for adult literacy education in Uganda.
Openjuru, George Ladaah.
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This was a study of rural community literacy practices in Uganda. I used the social practices theory of literacy as a theoretical framework to investigate literacy use in rural community life in Bweyale. The social practices theory of literacy sees literacy as variable social practice that can only be understood within the social context of its use. Consistent with the social practices theoretical perspective and following similar research traditions in this area of literacy study, I used ethnographic research methods to collect data and grounded theory methods to analyse data on literacy use in Bweyale. The study revealed that rural people, contrary to popular perceptions about their illiteracy and hence lack of literacy, actually use reading and writing in a variety of ways in different domains of literacy use. Literacy pervades most aspects of rural community life, making rural people use literacy in many rich and creative ways. Most people, regardless of their literacy status, participate in local literacy practices. The most prominent areas of literacy use in rural community life are livelihood activities, education, religion, bureaucracy, household life, and personal life. The study also found that the conception of literacy among rural people in Bweyale is similar to the dominant conception of literacy. In this conception, literacy is seen as equal to education and/or schooling and it relates to modernity. Rural people see literacy as a valuable and important aspect of life. The literacy they value most is the dominant English language literacy. This is due to the multilingual nature of Uganda and the national language policy that made English the dominant language of literacy even in rural community life. The use of English literacy is also reinforced by its use as the language of instruction in Uganda’s education system where most people learn how to read and write. This dominance of English complicates literacy use in rural community life because it brings in the need for translation, especially when people who do not understand English are involved in a literacy event. It also complicates local language literacy learning. The use of English is closely associated with the dominant non-traditional activities like school education, the police service, modern trade practices, and to some extent, Christian religious practices. Local language literacy is mainly used when communicating information relating to traditional activities, for example, traditional medicinal practices or for personal use. The study recommends that adult literacy education curricula should be tailored to the local literacy practices of the people for whom the literacy programmes are being developed. This will help to make the literacy programmes immediately relevant to the everyday literacy practices of the learners’ community. The programmes should promote literacy use in the community by exploring new areas of literacy use in rural community life. These are areas in which the use of literacy could lead to better management of some activities in rural community life. In all, rural people are literate in ways that are not acknowledged in dominant literacy thinking and hence even by rural people themselves. This way of thinking must be discouraged.